by Thomas Davidson

What makes a murder infamous? Is it the number of victims? The brutality of the crime? Or the eerie realization (the surrealization) that the crime scene extends into the astral plane, beyond the purview of law enforcement? The late Charles (“Bad Luck Chuck”) Murkle is widely regarded by INTERPOL, the FBI, and his downstairs neighbor as the unluckiest crime victim in history. This is his story. (And the next time someone asks, “Yo, wussup?” Simply say, “Charles Murkle.”)


 I woke up on the ceiling.

And saw a tiny chip of peeled paint set to fall like a snowflake. I was naked and alone, floating on my back in midair.

The ceiling reminded me of a large blank page, ready to be filled in. What was the story? Why was I up here? I rolled over in slow motion.

And saw myself directly below, ten feet down, asleep on the couch. Me, Charles Murkle, nicknamed “Bad Luck Chuck.”

This happened to me once before. An out-of-body experience. OBE. The first time was frightening. This time I felt dazed, detached, staring at the shell called Charles.

Down there, my head was squished against the armrest, mouth half-open, left arm dangling over the side of the couch. Nearby, the coffee table was littered with a wallet, keys, crushed cigarettes, and empty bottles.

The night’s highlights echoed in my head, flashbacks of an incendiary exchange. Voices and tempers rose in tandem, scorching the room. Pointed fingers dueled in the air. A sandstorm of shouts and accusations.

Recently I had suspicions about my sneaky wife and her boss, a silk-suited snake. I couldn’t prove it, but oh I knew. Lately, she had that faraway glint in her eyes.

Something was off.

As I inventoried the ruins of the evening, the bottles and butts, a noise broke the silence. Furtive footsteps padded along the hallway. Floorboards squeaked. The thump-thump stopped outside the doorway.

A sense of dread rippled through me. I studied myself lying twisted on the couch, passed out. The last time I had an OBE, I woke halfway up the chimney, but soon descended between the sooty bricks, and reeled back into my body. Perfectly conjoined. One plus one equals one.

A hushed voice broke the silence: “Psst.”

astral3A second pair of footsteps sounded in the hall, treading closer. I tried to turn, a human blimp scraping the ceiling, but couldn’t move. I could only look down and see myself, adrift in sodden dreams.

Eerie silence. Then: squeak, squeak.

Wanda Wackett-Murkle, my disheveled wife, appeared below me, holding a glass of wine. Her hair, an explosion of corkscrew curls, jiggled as she sneaked toward the couch on unsteady feet. She stopped, looked down at me, as I watched her from above. Then I heard a man’s voice, low and sinister, from the hallway behind me.

“Do it,” he hissed.

The two words triggered panic. I pictured her belly-crawling boss slithering into my apartment, provoking my wife with his sordid scheme. He violated her at work, and now he violated my home.

A moment later, Wanda—my unfaithful, drunken wife with the bewildered hairdo—grabbed a brass lamp from an end table, as if a baseball player grabbing a bat.

“Don’t!” I silently screamed. I thrashed against the ceiling, a hooked fish fighting for its life.

Wanda held the lamp high in the air like a trophy.

I looked at myself, my mind screaming, “Wake up…UP!”

Wanda, with a horrific downswing…

 * * *

Sometime before dawn I came to, aware again of floating like a balloon. I saw an empty, bloodstained couch. My body was gone. I thought of Wanda, the lamp. And most of all, I thought of her evil cohort—Mr. Do It. I never saw him, but I imagined his moussed hair, fluffed to perfection, his linen suit, and his flat black eyes rolling in their sockets while he egged her on…Do it!

A thumping sound snapped my reverie. Shifting my gaze, I spotted a visitor floating outside my second‑floor window. I recognized the plump, freckled face and jug ears. The buck teeth and goofy grin. He reminded me of a giant rabbit.

My neighbor—Bucky Schwartz.

Bucky lived alone downstairs on the first floor. Then it occurred to me—Bucky, too, was having an OBE. The real Bucky had to be snoring downstairs. Here was out-of-body Bucky floating in midair like a ghost.

Bucky tapped the window again.

I stared at Bucky. How had he slept through the racket? Why hadn’t he been alarmed and run upstairs, or called the police? Was he a sound sleeper or…?

“Help, Bucky,” I said. “I witnessed my own murder. Am I doomed to spend eternity in the nude by the ceiling? What should I do?”

Bucky grinned at me through the window pane, shrugged in slow motion, and said, “Do it.”

In a flash, I recognized the voice from the hallway. All along, I’d been cuckolded by Bucky.

Bucky stuck out his little pink tongue, waved bye-bye, and sank from sight.

* * *

Mitzie Myckleby opened the window for a spring breeze, and stretched out on her couch. Tonight was her first night in her new apartment and despite—or because of—its recent history, the place was a bargain. If she didn’t dwell on the previous tenant being murdered here, she was left with a rare gem in today’s tight housing market.

“From crime scene to real steal,” the realtor had declared. “Crime pays!”

Like much of modern life, the trick was not to think. Fortunately, being thoughtless was easy. So Mitzie didn’t think while lying on her couch, tired after a long day of moving. She needed a nap before continuing to unpack. Just a little snooze…zzzzz…

Later, she stirred. Opening her eyes in the dark, she detected a vague shadow directly overhead on the ceiling. The shadow shifted a few inches, as if a tiny cloud scudding across an overcast sky.

Mitzie blinked, and for some reason thought of the hapless tenant from last winter, crushed on his couch. She giggled at the image. How unlucky could you be?

The shadow stopped, its edges blurred, and blended with the night.

Maybe she was imagining things. Oh well. She’d heard a silly rumor about the place being haunted. If so, a ghost guaranteed an afterlife, however heavenly or hideous. So she called out with forced bravado, “Hey schmuck—what’s up? Is there life after death?”

She waited for an answer from on high.

A few seconds later, something fell through the air like a single snowflake, landed softly on her forehead. She reached for it.

A paint chip.

The rest of the night, Mitzie couldn’t sleep, and stared straight up.

– end –

astralBIO: Thomas Davidson has two quirky thrillers, THE MUSEUM OF SUDDEN DISAPPEARANCES and PAST IS PRESENT, available as ebooks on Amazon. His nonfiction has appeared in The Boston Phoenix; and is excerpted in the national bestseller Missing Beauty by crime reporter, Teresa Carpenter. His comic fiction has appeared in MudRock: Stories and Tales and The American Drivel Review; crime fiction in A Twist of Noir and Powder Burn Flash. His literary humor column appeared at The Electronic Drivel Review, ADR’s online supplement. An earlier version of UP first appeared in The American Drivel Review.

His thrillers are a mix of edgy suspense and raucous humor; whereas much of his short fiction is focused on “goofing off.” He loves to goof off—it takes his mind off of the edgy fact that real life is filled with hair-raising suspense. Ideally, life should be a “cozy” mystery, not a noir-nightmare “thriller” with a high body-count.

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